My Baseball Philosophy

What is my baseball philosophy? I think it’s important to communicate what it is, because everything I write comes out of my baseball philosophy. Moves I like and don’t like, traits that excite me, traits that don’t excite me, etc. all get filtered through the lens of my own unique baseball perspective. To make sense of my writing, it’s probably good to get an idea of where I’m coming from.

So what is it? Well, first, I should address what my philosophy is not.

My philosophy, like any good philosophy, is not merely contemplation…it has real applications and is grounded in logic and experience.

My philosophy is also not the same damn thing as every single person on FanGraphs or other sites. There isn’t one Dark Sabermetric Overlord who tells us all how to think. I’ve seen plenty of people considered excellent sabermetricians say things that go completely against my philosophy.

That’s why I’m taking the time to lay out what my philosophy is…if it were the same as someone else’s, I’d just provide a link (hey, it’s less time and energy!).

Enough of this introduction crap–let’s get down to what I actually believe.

First, yes, I’m a “stats guy” in some respect. I believe statistics are going to lead me closer to the truth than subjectivity.

That doesn’t mean that I think stats are the only important thing to look at. Let me elaborate on this distinction:

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I don’t personally know the Padres players, or any major league players for that matter, really. I’m Facebook friends with a couple of them, so I guess I could look at their info there and get the slightest of reads into them, but that’s about as far as it goes.

If I were in the position of Bud Black or Jed Hoyer, I would know the guys, understand the clubhouse dynamics, individual personalities, etc. But right now, I don’t have that information.

So why pretend I do? Why assign traits like “grittiness” to a player? David Eckstein’s a little white middle infielder who chokes up on the bat and gets hit by pitches a lot…of course he’s going to be labeled gritty, whether he actually is or not!

So that’s that.

A couple more notes on statistics: First, I don’t think any subjective opinions overrule the numbers when it comes to established players. Derek Jeter posted awful UZR numbers for a long time, but people said he was a great defender. I’ll take the stats over the subjective opinions anyday when we’re talking about how someone is performing.

Secondly, that’s an important distinction to be made: how someone is performing versus how they might perform in the future (gosh, I’m heavy on the italicizing today). There’s no doubt in my mind that Jeter played poor defense in the years where the numbers said he played poor defense. But there is a doubt in my mind, when, say, Edinson Rincon struggles with the bat in Low-A, that those numbers mean he won’t improve.

When dealing with prospects, thus, I look at a combination of stats and scouting reports. Rincon, for all his current struggles, may be a very solid MLB hitter, just like Anthony Bass, despite his solid numbers, may not have the “stuff” to pitch in the majors.

I don’t think you can ever write good numbers guys off completely, though. At some point, if a guy’s approach keeps working against better and better competition, you have to go “Fine, let’s see if he can do this in the majors.” At the same time, I don’t think you can ever really write high-potential, low-production guys off completely, either…maybe they figure it out.

So that’s my views on stats vs. subjectivity and/or scouting.

Now, on to my views on where to spend money.

If you’re on a sub-New York/Boston/LA budget, you can’t afford to just spend money everywhere.

One place you should is the draft/international scouting, etc. The amount of value a team gets from good players in pre-arbitration is staggering. It’s tremendously important to take advantage of that and get as many young players as possible.

When diving into the FA market, I believe in spending money on big-time guys…and that’s about it. Only the real difference-makers. Don’t give 4 years and $40 million to Kyle Lohse. Seriously. Don’t.

I think that corner positions and relievers can pretty much be filled with quality players for low salaries no matter what, if you’re smart. The Padres bullpen is a great example, with Heath Bell, Mike Adams, Luke Gregerson, Ed Mujica, Adam Russell, and others being low-cost castoff pickups from other teams. San Diego didn’t even develop any of them by themselves!

Corner guys are easily filled from Quad-A (Mike Hessman and John Lindsey would make a decent 1B/3B pair, and there’s all sorts of corner OF types who can slug) if you can’t homegrow them.

Therefore, in the draft, you look for middle-of-the-diamond guys and starting pitchers, since RPs and corner guys are pretty easy to get. Those are the positions you can spend big money on in free agency too.

The money saved from not signing B-or-C-level free agents goes into pursuing 1 or 2 top guys and going over slot to get more talent in the draft, not to mention international signings and team facility upgrades.

I don’t believe in the traditional lineup construction or bullpen management. On those, I’m pretty standard in the hard-line sabermetric line of thinking–bat the pitcher eighth, best hitter second, put in your best reliever in the situation with the highest Leverage Index, etc. I feel like those are at least worth trying, anyway, as the numbers say those strategies would give your team a pretty significant edge. If they backfire after a month or two for some psychological reason, fine, but they’re sure worth looking at.

I would also want to experiment with using six or even five relievers. I’d concentrate on getting guys with good changeups, so they could pitch to batters of either side, and use them as 55-game, 110-inning types. I’d need a good, durable rotation to want to implement that, however.

Having fewer relievers means having more position players. If you carry 15 position players, you could carry weaker hitters overall and simply platoon at nearly every position, so the good matchups would balance out the lesser talent. Again, a good way to save money.

I also believe extremely strongly in this.

I don’t believe in aggressive baserunning unless you can convert steals at a high rate. Even if you do, it’s not worth much statistically.

I like selective hitters with power (yeah, the old “Three True Outcomes” skillset), so I tend to be higher on them than most, and lower than most on speed/BA-oriented guys. I also like pitchers with two good offspeed pitches, and I pay big attention to strikeout numbers, so that’s sort of the first place I look for young pitchers with stats and scouting reports and what not.

I think that’s all. I’ll probably link to this post quite a bit when explaining things, and I’ll add other beliefs of mine that I feel are important to my philosophy if any others occur to me.